Stand back! I’ve done the Free Online Course

596px-Google's_Lexus_RX_450h_Self-Driving_Car

In California, Google run a fleet of driverless Toyota Prius, Lexus RX450h and Audi TT cars. Laws are such that you do need a driver behind the wheel “just in case”, but they’ve done (by April 2013) over 435,000 self driven miles without a single accident to date. Even doing impressive things (if you have a spare 3 minutes, i’d encourage you to watch this video).

Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun are two Stanford professors heavily involved at that project at Google. In 2011 and alongside their work at Google, they opened their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course at Stanford University for free – online – to anyone in the world who wanted to complete it. Over 100,000 subscribed, and with it started the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) industry.

MongoDB used the same structure of online teaching to offer two free courses last year, nominally training people who wanted to program and administer databases using their market leading MongoDB NoSQL database. Armed only with my MacBook Air on my dining table, I joined over 6,600 other hopefuls to do their free, 7 week long, 10 hours/week M101P: MongoDB for Developers course. This included examples in Python, which we learned as part of the syllabus. I also joined over 6,400 other students doing the equivalent M102: MongoDB for DBAs course.

You learn from short videos with frequent knowledge test quizzes each week, up to 10 hours per week per course, but in start/stop gaps around your other work/personal commitments. You then have a set of homework exercises to run on your own machine, which have to be completed and answers posted on their portal within a week of issue. New videos are released every Tuesday morning at 4am UK time, and the matching homework is to be in within a week. At the very end, Week 7, you have a final summary and a final 10 or 11 final exam questions to answer that week.

There is plenty of help on hand from the instructors and a small number of teaching assistants on each courses forum, though many of the queries are answered by fellow students.

Some weeks, it was mad. I was sitting there on my dining room table, five weeks in, with a database split over three different replica sets and multiple shards, all running on my MacBook Air and running very impressively. I just sat there shaking my head at the affront of having the full complexity of the thing I built running in front of me. This from having no experience of MongoDB, JSON syntax, Python code, or of JavaScript at all when I started the course.

I was delighted to have finished both courses with 100% ratings — something achieved by 2.2% of the intake of the programming course, and 5.1% for the DBAs. The company, after 7 weeks, had an extra 9,000 or so professional advocates who’ve passed their exams since they started the previous year (this was the second time they’d been run). I was duly certified:

MongoDB for Developers Course Certificate MongoDB for DBAs Course Certificate

The product itself is very, very impressive, built to scale out as your needs grow. I was no less impressed with the execution of this training on the edX platform, as described eloquently by VP Education Andrew Erlichson on their blog at the time. Anyone looking to do the same courses I did (and now more) can find them at https://education.mongodb.com/

This year, I’ve decided to improve my ability to sift data from databases and to present it in compelling ways. I dislike tables of numbers, even throwing my wife’s heart monitor readings onto a Google Sheets graph for her doctor – not least to show her anxiety of having readings taken calmed back to normality close to the end of the sampling period, something not immediately apparent from the raw data:

Jane Blood Pressure Chart

I’ve been doing similar but business orientated things in Tableau Desktop Professional for over 5 years (exposing underlying trends, sometimes leading to spectacular business results), but I’ve no doubt I’ll learn new and useful techniques with a fresh perspective from Google and the tools they use. To this end, i’ve registered on their free Making Sense of Data online course and am ready to go (part time!) from March 18th until April 4th.

There are plenty of other courses available on a wide range of topics, most free, some with nominal subscription charges. Go have a gander at what’s available at:

So, lots to pique anyones interests, and to keep learning. Which courses are you going to do this year?

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